Nearly one week after receiving seven medals for his World War II service, Clifford Sams, 93, of rural Beaman and wife Wilma, 92, are still talking about the surprise they received upon walking into the American Legion Hall in Conrad Nov. 30.
Ready to greet them were U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and his wife Barbara, whom the Sams have known since 1974, Rep. Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford), the senator's grandson, Larry McKibben of Marshalltown, their family attorney and friend of many years, the Sams' five children and 34 other relatives.
Clifford and Wilma had traveled from their farm to Conrad under the assumption they were attending a Thanksgiving weekend family event.
PHOTO COURTESY OF ROB MAHARRY OF THE RECORD
U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, back left, looks on as his wife Barbara Grassley pins a World War II medal on Clifford Sams of rural Beaman at the American Legion Hall in Conrad Nov. 30. The Grassleys, other dignitaries and members of the Sams family were on hand to witness him receive medals earned as an infantryman in World War II.
"Normally we have a Christmas get together, but they (our children) said they were moving it up to Thanksgiving," Clifford said.
Daughter Beth of Muscatine, son Brad of Lincoln, Neb., daughter Judy of Prairie City, son Paul of Marshalltown and daughter Sarah of Columbus, Ohio, had been correct in telling their parents about the family event.
They kept the other part a secret, which centered around Clifford's medals and Wilma's quilts.
Clifford entered the U.S. Army in the fall of 1942 and would join three brothers also on active duty in the armed forces.
He rose from private to sergeant to platoon sergeant.
Clifford was assigned to a rifle company in Italy, where he saw extensive combat, especially in 1944.
His voice broke several times with emotion in describing the challenges and rigors of mountain fighting, of not wanting to make close friends, of the high rate of casualties in his unit.
"We had 363 percent turnover," Clifford said. "That included dead and wounded."
Paul said Clifford has talked a little bit more about his war memories over the years, but is still extremely guarded, preferring to talk about the valor one brother displayed in landing on three beachheads against heavy enemy fire.
Clifford said he and many others in the infantry wanted to put war memories in the past and for him, that included not pursuing earned medals.
An Honor Flight to Washington taken by Clifford seven years ago alerted daughters Beth and Sarah that their dad did not have any of the medals he had earned in World War II.
Sarah contacted her Congressman, Steve Stirrers (R-Ohio), of Columbus and Judy alerted McKibben, who helped arrange the ceremony with Jodi Tymeson, commandant of the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.
Sen. Grassley presented Clifford with seven medals: the Army Good Conduct, European/American/Middle-Eastern Campaign, World War II Prime Campaign, Medal for the American Campaign, rifleman's medal for infantry, the lapel button for honorable service and the Bronze Star, which he received three times in recognition for his outstanding service and bravery on the battlefield.
And one Bronze Star was given for helping save a fellow soldier's life.
The Bronze Star is one of the most highly regarded awards in the United States military.
The medal is awarded to individual members of the U.S. Armed Forces for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service. It is currently the fourth highest award a military serviceman can earn in combat operations and the ninth highest overall.
Clifford wasn't the only one on center stage that day.
The family was also eager to honor Wilma for her quilt making skills.
A handsome, bound book with colorful photos of her many quilts, a description of each and a photo of family members who received them, was coordinated by Judy with help from Brad's wife and other family.
Fittingly, a number of the quilts were on display in the hall.
After the war, Sams came back to the family farm and worked the fields for many years.
He now considers himself semi-retired.
Sitting in their cozy living room which overlooks farm fields, Clifford and Wilma, husband and wife for 53 years, were still talking about their big day.
They were honored to have the Graceless attend, but also said they were pleased to have McKibben present. Their comments about the Marshalltown attorney revealed a bond of trust, which had developed into one of great respect and friendship over the years.
"We had been doing business with the law firm before Larry joined it," Clifford said. "We were his first customer and have become very close through the years. We know he had a role in making our day special and for that, we are truly grateful."